Of Camels and Gnats

Gnats are annoying. Biting gnats leave welts that are much itchier than mosquito bites and when they swarm, you’re likely to wind up looking like an idiot flailing your arms around in a futile attempt to keep them away. Not to mention that you’ll inevitably end up inhaling or swallowing one on accident. For the next hour you’ll feel like there’s something disgusting stuck in your throat or nasal passages. As small as they are, gnats aren’t the sorts of things you live peaceably with.

So you can imagine that back in the days when camels were a normal mode of transportation, if you hired a camel to carry you and your goods on a long trip, and your guide showed up with a gnat infested camel, this would be an issue. A long trip on a gnat infested camel was probably a known cause of nervous breakdowns in the ancient world. So, of course, you would demand that the guide you hired for the trip do something about the problem. Attach fly paper to the camel’s ears and provide you with a climate controlled helmet to wear on the trip or something.

Now, a camel has a thicker hide than a human. But a serious gnat infestation isn’t fun for a camel to endure. Particularly since the little devils will target soft spots like the nose, eyes, mouth and other more unmentionable areas on a camel. Camels aren’t particularly know for their sweet dispositions anyways. So it’s easy to imagine that a gnat infested camel may be a particularly ill tempered beast.

In fact, while you are busy figuring out what to do about the gnats. the people tending to and attempting to load and prepare the camel are liable to get bit, spit on, kicked in the head, crapped on and otherwise injured by the camel. Imagine for a moment if you responded to the various cries and complaints of the people the camel is hurting by telling them to be more careful in doing their job, to stop with all the complaining. Maybe you fire the person who had the gall to come to work covered in camel dung.

Or maybe you’re not quite that insensitive so you say, “once we get this gnat situation worked out, the camel will settle down and you’ll be fine. But right now I need you to shut up so I can deal with this gnat problem.”

Or if you fancy yourself as a sensitive person who understands the plight of dealing with a gnat infested camel, you might say, “the camel kicked you in the head? That’s awful. I know what it’s like. You should see the bites I got while I was sitting on it. I feel your pain. In fact, you really ought to be over here tending to my welts instead of laying on the ground moaning like that.”

It seems to me that as a people, this is exactly how the problems we face play out. We are so fixated on the problems of those who are riding the camel that we end up not tending to the injuries inflicted on less powerful people who have been injured by the camel. Continue reading

“High Priests of Caesar’s Court”

I came across a post by Greg Boyd today which I think makes a great follow-up to my post earlier this week – Our Faithless Culture Wars – that I hope you will go read. The choice excerpts for me:

We sadly assume our highest calling is to be the high priests of Caesar’s court, telling it how God allegedly wants it to spend its money.

Of course, being the high priests of Caesar’s court means you’ve got to get into the messy complexity of this court. How do we know that fighting for money to go to recreational facilities is the right thing to do? Maybe fighting for more funding for schools, or housing for the poor, or for more and better public transportation is a better fight. And what about the unlivable low minimum wage, or the lack of adequate shelters for the homeless, or the increasing number of people who lack basic health coverage, or the inadequate presence of police in dangerous neighborhoods? As the high priests of Caesar’s court, we have to make these tough decisions — and there’s only so much money to go around.

Not only this, but every action creates a reaction, and as Caesar’s wiser and more caring counselors we have to be experts about all of these things. For example, it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on higher wages for workers. But are we sure this won’t force many small business owners to fire workers, thereby harming the poor more than helping them? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist U.S. troops pull out of Iraq right now. But are we sure this won’t result in a greater bloodbath than there already is over there? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on preserving a pool for inner city kids, but what if the money for this has to be taken from classrooms, requiring that some teachers be let go, resulting in a poorer education for these kids? Is a pool more important than education?

It’s all very complex and ambiguous, but once we position ourselves as Caesar’s high priests, we have no choice but to wade through it all. Continue reading